Internal displacement: the silent epidemic

August 19, 2022

On World Humanitarian Day, we celebrate the importance of people helping people and the thousands of volunteers, professionals and crisis affected people who deliver urgent assistance. This humanitarian assistance is now more important as we witness a growing number of people who need help after being forcibly displaced. Africa is the most affected continent and hosts  over one-third of the forced displacement population. Of those forcibly displaced, three quarters or about 21.8 million Africans are internally displaced, meaning they remain within their country’s borders. Internal displacement constitutes a significant economic burden for individuals, communities, and economies.

This silent displacement epidemic is driven by conflict but also increasingly by a changing climate. In Ghana for instance, the Global Internal Displacement Database indicates that over the last ten years more than 162,299 Ghanaians have been internally displaced due to weather related disasters, mainly storms and floods. Notable cases include the 2013 and 2018 floods which left 23,000 and 52,000 people displaced respectively. More recently (2021), floods in Ketu South Municipality in the Volta Region left 7,000 people internally displaced. These numbers show that our region is highly vulnerable and at risk.

Leveraging transformative shifts

The effects of climate change as predicted by scientists are already coming to pass. Intense heat waves, prolonged droughts and rising sea levels are increasing the vulnerability to displacement. Looking into the future, the effects of climate change will be profound and climate-related disasters will be more prevalent. African countries need to respond to the impact of climate change now to help prevent a reversal in development gains. By anticipating, adapting, and recovering faster from disasters including climate-related disasters, countries can help to prevent widening poverty and inequality that accompanies displacement. In doing so, they can draw upon these three transformative shifts:

Big data and digitalization

Planning for the unforeseen using accurate and timely information can help to prepare and mitigate the impact of a catastrophe thus reducing loss of property and the number of people displaced by the same. In today's big data era, it is possible to project the probable scenarios of a disaster using remote sensing data and data from other sources such as social media to guide early warning and preparedness.,

For Africa to get the highest benefit from the big data opportunity in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, it is necessary to enhance the capacity of policymakers and organisations involved in disaster management to handle the big data. This will aid in the production of accurate and reliable forecasting and in proper allocation of human and financial resources in the event of a disaster.


Africa’s urban population is projected to triple by 2050 with Africa’s cities being home to an additional 800 million people. This movement is expected to trigger social change that could be exacerbated by internal displacement. Preparing for such rapid urbanization requires a renewed focus on building inclusive and resilient and cities now. Effective urban planning and management are paramount if we are to increase the ‘livability’ of many African cities for this growing population.

Innovative risk insurance financing

For most countries, coping with disasters is a challenge and often the worst affected are  least able to rebuild and recover from the impact of crises’ (UNDP). Ramping up access to insurance and risk financing will help provide a safety net in the event of a crisis and prevent long term displacement. However, in Ghana for instance, 70 percent of Ghanaians have no access to insurance. They are incapable of protecting their assets, lives and livelihoods from the impact of crises. Bridging this disaster protection gap calls for innovative solutions such as UNDP’s Insurance and Risk Finance Facility. Through this initiative, we are helping to strengthen the financial resilience of developing countries like Ghana and ‘protect vulnerable communities from socio-economic, climate and health-related disasters.’


While launching his Action Agenda on Internal Displacement, the UN Secretary General António Guterres emphasised the fact that “The plight of internally displaced persons is more than a humanitarian issue. It takes an integrated approach – combining development, peacebuilding, human rights, climate action and disaster risk reduction efforts”.  If African countries are to achieve the desired sustainable development goals, they need to address the issue of internal displacement urgently and as sustainably as possible. This silent epidemic is an opportunity to transform our future by preventing displacement and mitigating impacts on the most vulnerable.



The silent epidemic of internal displacement is an opportunity to transform our future by preventing displacement and mitigating impacts on the most vulnerable.
Angela Lusigi